A Heart for the Lost

The apostle Paul was a driven man. He said in Romans 1:15 that he was “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” As far as we know, he had never visited that largest of first century cities, but he wanted to. The place teemed with people from all over the world and it would have been a natural place for the interest of an evangelist. He loved the lost and wanted to save them. This should be a prime motivation for the Lord’s church. Great congregations are always reaching out to the lost.               

Concern for the lost comes from God Himself.  In the book of Hosea God pictured His love for His wayward people like the love Hosea had for his wandering wife. “Therefore, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her” (2:14). He longed to bring His people back home again. He even sent Jonah to preach to the dreaded people of Nineveh. Why? Because he cared for the lost and wanted to move them to repentance before He had to judge them.               

The rulers of Israel were scolded through Ezekiel because “the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost” (34:4). Shepherds must care.

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Jesus kindly spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-45), then spent two more days in her city teaching its residents and creating believers. He could have easily skipped the place on his busy journey up north, but he stopped to save the lost.

The heart of the church needs to be tuned to the lost around us. It’s what Jesus wants to see in us. It’s how the church grows, for if we don’t care for the lost, we fail to reach them with the message of life. Yes, the lost can be frustrating when they refuse our interest in them, but we must continue to seek others. How many did Paul convert? Far less than he spoke to. But he rejoiced that he had managed to save some (1 Cor.9:22).

All of us were once lost, but somebody loved us and brought us to Jesus. Do that for someone else. It’s an obligation of love.

– Tim Johnson

The Promises of God

As Israel was hauled off into captivity by the iron-grip of Nebuchadnezzar in 606 BC, they wondered what had happened to God’s promises of protection. They settled into this foreign land where people spoke a language they didn’t understand, and worshiped gods Israel knew nothing about. What happened to all God had said over the years about His faithfulness to them?

Before the first wave of people had even left for Babylon, God revealed through Jeremiah that their stay would last 70 years (see Jer.25:11). Sometime close to the end of the captivity, Daniel reminded them of Jeremiah’s record of God’s promise about the 70 years. Somehow, in all their grumbling, the people had forgotten what the Lord had clearly said.

But the Lord hadn’t forgotten. Ezra recorded that when the 70th year came, the new king Cyrus was providentially motivated by God to write an official decree releasing all Israelites who wanted to return to Jerusalem. It’s all laid out in Ezra 1:1-4. Once that 70th year arrived, it was like an alarm clock going off – it was time to go home! What’s even more interesting is that 250 years before, Isaiah predicted that the liberator’s name would be “Cyrus” (see Isaiah 44:28). Can you imagine that? Two centuries before he lived, God clearly recorded what his actual name would be!

The entire saga of Israel’s trials and release from Babylon demonstrates the iron-clad promises of God. He always fulfils what He says He’s going to do. We live in a world that constantly breaks its promises, but that should never weaken our trust in a God who never breaks His.

We are saved by God’s promise (Gal.3:29), and protected by a promise (1 Peter 1:5). If God fulfilled His promises in such a dramatic way to Israel, you can count on Him doing the same for you.

– Tim Johnson

Possessing Our Possessions

The words in our title come from Obadiah 17. It was a time of oppression and trouble for Israel. Edom, her most persistent enemy, possessed their land. Therefore, God promised to bring Edom low, and in that day Israel would have their land restored. They would possess their possessions.

Here is an important lesson. It is possible to have possessions we haven’t fully possessed. Matthew Arnold said, “We see all sights from pole to pole. We nod and beck and bustle by and never once possess our souls before we die.”

Men may own but never truly possess in true spiritual and inward enjoyment. One meaning of the word possess in our text is enjoy. I’m sure we’ve all known Christians who don’t seem to take the time to enjoy the faith, to be happy with the church, and to contemplate the great spiritual blessings given to us by a resurrected Savior.

There was a lady once who walked into a book store. She told the clerk she wanted three yards of books with brown bindings to match the décor of her living room. The books became hers but did she really possess them?

A poet once said to his generation, “What you have inherited from your fathers earn over again for yourselves, or it will not be yours.” Our Father has given us a name. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

It’s not enough to just wear the name. We must possess it.

– David and Tim Johnson

World’s Greatest Disaster

One of the greatest tragedies in human history was the Black Plague in Europe. Over a 7-year period (1346-1353), over 75-200 million people died. The population of Europe was pretty well cut in half and would not fully recover for 300 years. As the crisis accelerated, germs spread quickly because the dead could not be buried quickly enough. Since no one knew the source of the disease, physicians of the time offered useless treatments. However, religious people were familiar with the instructions in the Law of Moses regarding quarantine and hygiene when leprosy was present, and how to deal with the dead. Church leaders applied these principles to the plague and leprosy, and the spread of disease was halted in many communities. Millions of lives were saved.

While reading ahead for our Sunday morning adult study of the Book of Numbers, I was reminded of the Law’s instructions about hygiene. For example, in 19:14-16 it directs, “This is the law when a man dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days. And every open vessel which has no covering tied down on it, shall be unclean. Also, anyone who in the open field touches one who has been slain with a sword or who has died naturally, or a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days.” The purpose of these instructions is obviously to prevent the spread of disease and germs, although ancient Jews could not understand the medical details as we can today.

That such medical wisdom was being practiced by ancient Israel a full 2800 years before the devastation of the great plagues of medieval Europe is surely amazing. The most advanced societies of the time were nowhere close to practicing Israel’s ways of hygiene and seclusion. No scientific experimentation discovered these principles; it originated in the inspired word of God.

This is one more clear piece of evidence that the Bible is indeed a book given to man by God Himself.

– Tim Johnson

The Sea of Glass

Frightful things have confronted the world recently, highlighted by the violence in France and Belgium. Terrorism has people afraid of what might happen next.

After all the violence that accompanied the exodus of Israel from Egypt, God reassured Moses that there is peace. One day he called 74 people up into Mt. Sinai, including Moses. There they saw an appearance of God that was marvellous. See Exodus 24:9-10. “Under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” The ancients were used to a world of rocks, dust and mud. A sapphire pavement would have been spectacular.

There’s a similar description in Rev.4:6, where John spoke of God in heaven. There he saw “a sea of glass like crystal” surrounding the throne. Later, in Rev.15:2, victorious martyrs stood “on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.”

What can we learn from such a splendid description? In the book of Revelation the enemy of the church arises out of “the sea” (13:1). Later, the great harlot – representing Rome – sits on her own throne “above the waters.” John explained, “the waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.” (v15) In the world there is turmoil, like the crashing, swirling sea. Nations and rulers often stir things up and there is unrest and violence. But with God there is only peace and calm, like a sea of glass. He is in control, even when the world seems more like a raging sea.

We have to live in a world that is constantly in turmoil, and often frightful. But we can have a connection with heaven where all is calm. In Jesus Christ we can have peace – come what may. Next time you feel fear, picture yourself standing before God’s throne surrounded by a sea of glass.

– Tim Johnson